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High school closing plan sparks community fears that students will drop out

Adrianne Opp spoke in support of George Washington Community High School at a school board meeting Tuesday.
Adrianne Opp spoke in support of George Washington Community High School at a school board meeting Tuesday.
Dylan Peers McCoy

A proposal to close three high schools in Indianapolis Public Schools is igniting fears among community members as they wait to learn which schools could face closure.

At a school board meeting Tuesday night, dozens of residents jammed into an elementary school library to hear a proposal to close high schools — and to prevent their local schools from shuttering.

After years of shrinking enrollment, district leaders are grappling with a challenge: IPS expects that high schools will only be about 37 percent full next fall. Those empty classrooms come at a steep cost to the district, and the administration expects it could save $4 million to $7 million a year by closing three buildings.

Last night, board members and Indianapolis residents heard from a district facilities committee that recommended the district close three as-yet-unnamed high schools. The district is already planning to convert John Marshall Community High School to a middle school next fall, but those students could be moved to another building in the future. Those changes would leave the district with four high schools.

The district is aiming to increase the number of students in the remaining buildings, so that they are about 70-80 percent full. District staff say that leaves some room for schools to grow. But operations officer David Rosenberg said that despite economic growth in downtown Indianapolis, IPS is not expecting to see many more high schoolers in coming years.

“It really doesn’t behoove the district, it doesn’t behoove teachers, students or taxpayers to just hang on to those buildings and see what may happen in the next decade,” Rosenberg said. “Over the next decade, four high schools will be more than enough.”

But for the communities where high schools close, it will be a painful process regardless for the long-term savings of the district.

Adrianne Opp, a resident of the near west side, told the board that she was at the meeting to represent her neighborhood and support George Washington Community High School.

“We will have students drop out or decrease their enrollment in the high schools that will remain by closing those that are close to them,” Opp said. “That is the only opportunity they have. Access is an issue.”

James Hurt, who graduated from Crispus Attucks High School, said he is concerned about which schools the administration will close. But he understands that the district needs to close some schools.

“We have a couple of high schools that do not have … enough people or students,” Hurt said. “Like Arlington (High School). Arlington may not have 800 students over there, and that’s a huge building.”

The district will hold four community meetings in April and May before Superintendent Lewis Ferebee recommends to the board which schools to close. The board expects to make a final decision in September.

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